Updated: Wednesday April 12, 2017 1:05pm EDT

Spirit Airlines, the United States launch customer for the Airbus A320neo, continues to face challenges with the Pratt and Whitney engines that power their A320neo fleet. For months, Spirit has had to park multiple A320neo aircraft on various occasions to perform unplanned engine swaps.


While having one or two aircraft out of service is common for an airline the size of Spirit, the problem recently got much worse. Just this weekend, three out of five A320neos in the Spirit fleet were out of service with the same engine problem. The engine issue is described as “Engine Oil Chip Detected”.

According to sources familiar with the situation, cold temperatures have caused the bleed system to freeze shut on occasion. Due to this issue, Spirit Airlines has told pilots not to fly the A320neo above 30,000 feet in order to reduce strain on the PW1000G engines. This appears to be the same problem facing Indian airlines Indigo, who also recently restricted pilots from flying the A320neo above 30,000 feet.

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport has become a parking lot for Spirit A320neo aircraft in recent weeks. As seen in the photo below, three A320neo aircraft have been placed in temporary storage. Two of these aircraft appear to have windows, engines, and landing gear covered.

N901NK, N905NK, and an unidentified A320neo sitting at DFW.
N901NK, N905NK, and an unidentified A320neo sitting at DFW.

In order to continue flying their full schedule, Spirit Airlines will begin to outsource flying to charter airline Miami Air. In a message to Spirit Airlines pilots, the Spirit Airlines Master Executive Council (MEC) said “As you may be aware, on Friday the VP Flight Operations notified the MEC Chairman of Spirit’s intent to contract out revenue flying utilizing Miami Air pursuant to CBA Section 1.B.2.

The initial plan was one round-trip flight each on Friday and Saturday. On Saturday, the MEC was first notified of the intent to use Miami Air again on the 9th and later in the evening we were notified of the intent to Miami Air again on the 10th.

The company asserts that this outsourcing is due to the A320 Neo aircraft being out of service and therefore currently operating without any spares. The MEC went on to say, “our attorneys are monitoring this situation closely to ascertain the true cause of this situation, the Company’s intent, and identify any potential violations of the CBA.”

A Spirit spokesperson reached out with a correction to our story: “The information on the bleed air valve freezing is incorrect.  We are flying at 30,000 feet to provide a better ambient pressure differential for the number 3 Bearing compartment lift off seal contact issue. To be clear, these engine issues are limited to our NEO aircraft which represents only 5 planes in our fleet, three of which are currently going through our regular maintenance protocol and are on the ground.”

“The issues with the Neo engines have led to some cancellations within our network, but from a customer’s perspective, the impact has been minimal. To be clear, this is not a safety issue. The Neo engines are electronically monitored so this allows us to check any potential issues well in advance of any larger issues. But the issues with the NEOs has caused a spare engine problem for Spirit.  Spirit relies on Pratt & Whitney and Airbus to provide the support we need to make our operations run smoothly.  We are working with the engine manufacturer to provide the needed support.  We are also working with both Pratt & Whitney and Airbus on short term and long term solutions to provide the support we need.  In the meantime, for a small number of flights that are effected we are utilizing the services of a third party airline to keep our operations running smoothly.

In an emailed response, a spokesperson for Pratt and Whitney commented “We are working closely with Spirit on this issue and will continue to support the airline, a valued customer, to minimize any inconvenience.

Pratt & Whitney is planning to build 350-400 engines in 2017, with over 50 spare engines for the flying fleet to support our customers. Since entering service last January, GTF engines have more than 100,000 hours of passenger service. They are utilized by 13 operators, flying 250 flights per day, to over 100 destinations on four continents.”

As other operators of the Pratt and Whitney PW1000G continue to face similar problems, A320neo operators using the rival CFM Leap-1A engine are having few issues. Spirit Airline’s competitor and Leap 1-A operator Frontier Airlines has seen no major problems with their A320neo fleet.